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Getting Green While Getting Clean

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We’ve talked before in this space about going green: making small changes to everyday practices in order to create more eco-friendly athletic and fitness facilities. We’ve talked about making big changes too: about using sustainable building materials and developing lighting, heating, and cooling strategies that leave smaller environmental footprints. One thing we haven’t talked about, though, is laundry. That’s why I was glad to see a great article about athletic laundry facilities on Athletic Business’s website.

The article points out the complications of working at an athletic laundry facility: the use of multiple fabric types in sports uniforms (today’s uniforms typically comprise five different types); the need to have a constant supply of towels available on demand; the expectation that workout clothes and other gear will be clean and ready whenever needed. Given the high-pressure environment, it’s not surprising that ecological efficiency is not the first thing on a laundry room’s agenda. But the laundry room is a place where a huge footprint can be left. From massive amounts of water, to massive amounts of energy used to power the water, to the chemicals required for those complicated cleaning jobs, athletic laundry rooms present big challenges to the “go green” effort.

So, if you run an athletic facility — or a fitness center with a laundry room for processing copious towels — what can you do to strive for greater eco-efficiency?

Start with the water. As the Athletic Business article notes, using programmable-control machines that automatically choose appropriate water levels for different wash jobs reduces human error in water consumption. Also, filling machines with appropriately sized loads makes a big difference. Most people underload, Gary Gauthier, a regional sales manager with the Pellerin Milnor Corporation, told Athletic Business. “This practice,” he said, “wastes water, chemicals, energy, and time.” What’s an appropriate load size? “I encourage that frontloading washer-extractors be filled until there’s a football-sized opening at the top of the basket,” Gauthier said. Other possibilities to consider: washers that have shower-rinse features along with bath-rinse features, washers that use polymer beads or other new technologies in place of most water, and washers that allow you to reclaim the water used for rinsing.

Next, think about chemicals. Taking steps to conserve water is just the beginning. Choosing the right chemicals also goes a long way toward reducing environmental impact. Cold-water chemicals that clean fabrics effectively save on costs associated with heating water. Ozone, a chemical less harsh than chlorine and equally effective in smaller amounts, disappears as it cleans and loosens fibers for softer, cleaner items; it also has the added benefit of conserving water because it requires less to get the job done. Whatever chemicals you choose for your facility, laundry experts recommend building up a good working relationship with your chemical representatives. “A knowledgeable chemical rep who can visit the laundry locally and solve cleaning issues is an ideal resource for any athletic facility,” Gauthier told Athletic Business.

Finally, review your laundry facility’s operational efficiency regularly. With continually updated uniforms, new styles of towels, changes in practice gear and equipment, and other frequently changing variables in the laundry room, it’s essential to keep your laundering practices up-to-date. Otherwise, it’s easy to keep cycling through routines established in past years (or even decades) without pausing to consider whether those routines are still relevant. Reviewing your operational efficiency allows you to analyze data related to towel loads, water usage, chemical optimization, and much more, and to make decisions related to your analysis. In other words, don’t let the laundry room operate on autopilot. Take charge of the controls, and you’ll find yourself with a more sustainable facility — and maybe even cleaner clothes.

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